From LinkedIn Connections to Community Leaders: The Automation Ladies Experience

46 min video  /  45 minute read


Nikki Gonzales

Head of Partnerships


Alicia Gilpin


Process & Controls Engineering, LLC

What happens when two passionate ladies in industrial automation meet on LinkedIn and decide to create a podcast? Magic. And growth, lots of growth. Dive into the journey of the Automation Ladies podcast and how it has become an engine for both business growth and network expansion. Nikki and Ali will unpack how amplifying your voice online can have real-world business benefits. If you want to grow your customer base, attract top-tier suppliers, or strengthen your community, this talk should have some actionable takeaways on the power of creating an authentic personal brand by sharing your journey with the world.


Nikki Gonzales: Welcome. That's her job.

Christine Lee: That's my job.

Nikki Gonzales: My bad. We hope you're in for a few laughs today.

Christine Lee: Hi everyone. I'm Christine Lee, and I'm an Application Engineer at Inductive Automation. And welcome to today's session with the Automation Ladies. It's called "From LinkedIn Connections to Community Leaders: the Automation Ladies Experience," and I will be your moderator for today. And to start things off, I'd like to introduce you to our speakers today. Nikki Gonzales, Head of Partnerships at Quotebeam. She was born in Iceland, and she started her career as sales engineer in machine vision systems and mechatronics before transitioning to the design side of engineering with multi-physics simulation for virtual prototyping of electronics. And finally, ending up in the supply chain space, developing chat interfaces for data analytics and using AI for forecasting and inventory optimization. That's a lot of words. So she's awesome.

Christine Lee: Sorry, I wasn't done. Today she brings all of that experience together, building an online procurement and workflow automation platform for industrial automation distributors and their customers to collaborate on the BOM procurement process with Quotebeam. Okay, now clap.

Nikki Gonzales: And that was 30 minutes. The end.

Christine Lee: And to my right, Ali G., Owner of Process & Controls Engineering, LLC. Ali G. was born in Mexico. She holds a Bachelor's of Science in Chemical Engineering from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. Before starting her own engineering company she spent 10 years in engineering. She started at process engineering and then transitioned to controls. She eventually went on to run a UL508-A panel shop and spent years traveling the US starting up burner and gas train control applications. Today, she provides controls engineering services across the US, through her company, Process & Controls Engineering. I'm so excited to introduce these ladies to you all, and I hope you have a great time. So please help me welcome Nikki and Ali.

Nikki Gonzales: Thank you. Okay, slides there, we go and get this right. So here's the topic of our talk, which I think you know, and that's us. So we obviously don't have to introduce ourselves because Christine did that beautifully for us. But what we've learned over the last couple of days is that not everybody knows that we have day jobs. Automation Ladies is our side gig/hobby passion project. So I would just like to quickly introduce Quotebeam, the company that I work for. It is a startup out of the Bay Area, and I joined as the first employee a couple of years ago. We're a team of 12 now. And we do a lot of software engineering because we're building connected platform, and we're very excited to hopefully integrate that with the Ignition community at some point through open APIs. And our friend Alex Marcy over at Corso Systems here has volunteered his time to build a prototype with us when the time is right. So look out for that at some point. But we help people procure parts, and I'd like to have Ali also tell you a little bit about PCE.

Alicia Gilpin: Yeah, I started my company after 10 years of doing all kinds of different engineering roles in industrial automation. And it's been amazing. But I'm a systems integrator out of the Pacific Northwest. But I got my first contracts and jobs in Rhode Island and Florida. So I was able to get visibility outside of the Pacific Northwest and kind of started making a name for myself in government contracting in the Pacific Northwest.

Nikki Gonzales: Yeah, so that's a lot of what we're doing right now. We've been working together on some projects over the last couple of days, and I am going to try to speak a bit slower. So we wanted to just tell you our story. We were asked to come present, and we really don't like to speak on topics that we don't know a whole lot about. And this is kind of a topic that we know a lot about because we did it. But it was a very interesting exercise for us to go back to prepare for this presentation. I almost call this presentation a scrapbook because I went through and looked at what happened. 'Cause we both have our recollections, and we get asked a lot, "How did you start Automation Ladies? Why did you start Automation Ladies? What is it? Is it a group?"

Nikki Gonzales: Is it a... Well, it's a podcast. But a little bit more than that. We do LinkedIn live shows. We like to do demos because we're both incredibly curious, and we'd like to know what technology is out there, what other people are doing. We wanna see stuff without having to go through a complicated sales funnel, or be gated, or be qualified. And we kind of got into some discussions about this, and instead of complaining, we wanted to do something about it. So even though neither one of us knew what the heck we were doing, we decided to do something about this problem that we kept talking about. And the other thing was just we've always kind of operated in little silos as women in industrial automation. You generally are one of a few people at a plant, or at a sales conference, or something like that.

Nikki Gonzales: And we're kind of geographically isolated. And obviously, COVID changed that. LinkedIn changed a bit. It went from being at posting your resumes to actually having conversations, making connections. And that is actually how we ended up meeting, on LinkedIn. I used to work in the Bay Area. I was a sales engineer in the Bay Area, including covering Folsom, when I worked with Keyence and Festo. And then I moved to Seattle, and we actually lived in the same area. We didn't know that for a while. And then I moved back to Houston during COVID and met Ali after that. And I was like, "Oh man, we used to live like 20 minutes away from each other." But LinkedIn is an online community that, I think, for us as engineers and business professionals, it captured something we haven't been able to do a lot because we are also a little bit siloed at home.

Nikki Gonzales: Like who wants to hear about SCADA systems in your friend circle or at your kids' baseball games? Not a lot of people, right? You go to a party, and people ask, what do you do? And I'm like, well, do I want your eyes to glaze over? Or I'm gonna say something like, "Oh yeah, I work with robots." Even though we all know that most of us don't work with robots at all.

Alicia Gilpin: I say factory computers.

Nikki Gonzales: Yeah. So we found this incredible comradery when we met and talked and realized that we love the Pacific Northwest. We love automation. We are also girls, which you know we have gender in common. That doesn't always mean that we wanna be best friends, right? I don't know if all of you men are always best friends just 'cause you're also a man. We don't find that. But we found each other, and we really got along. And this was about two years ago, LinkedIn reminded me. And our first message, so I remember seeing Ali posting a bunch of stuff from PACK Expo, and I started following her, and she was posting a bunch of stuff from YouTube, like how does a certain type of valve work or just all these things that she was studying and learning and content that she liked. And I started following her, and I think she had maybe, like, I don't know, 30,000-20,000 followers at the time. It was a lot. I was like, "Whoa, this girl's just sharing engineering stuff and I love seeing it and apparently other people like seeing it." So I sent her this message at some point, and it was just interesting to see like I had not looked at this.

Nikki Gonzales: But I said, "Hey, thanks for connecting. I love the videos that you're posting." And apparently we were like, yeah, we need more women to see, and support, and learn from. And she thought that I actually spoke Spanish. I'm not really Mexican; I'm just by marriage. But a couple of misunderstandings initially, but since then our LinkedIn presence has grown quite a bit. Ali is now up to, what is that, like 58,000 followers? It's crazy.

Nikki Gonzales: There's that many engineering nerds that like to see what we're doing out there.

Alicia Gilpin: Thank you.

Nikki Gonzales: And neither one of us are social media sharers anywhere else. Like I know, influencing is a whole big thing on Instagram and whatever. I don't got time for that, so I don't really know how it works elsewhere. We're not doing it for that. But it is really fun to have this community. And we met so many people here in person that we know from LinkedIn, that we really enjoy this. But that is how we met. And we actually did not meet at all before we started the podcast. Some of the things that inspired the podcast was this group chat. And I actually wanna hand it over to Ali to talk about how this happened. I had to remind her by pulling up this conversation. That was about a month after we initially exchanged messages.

Alicia Gilpin: So I don't remember if it was the one that was called Women in Industrial Automation or Women Play with...

Nikki Gonzales: "Girls Messing with Automation Hardware Chats," we called it.

Alicia Gilpin: Yeah. Okay. So that's what we called it. Okay. And so I knew some women that were doing the same stuff that we're doing and that are programmers or work with robotics or whatever, PLC programmers, even technicians. So we didn't even just get engineers like in on this chat. We got kind of, I don't know, a lot of women that I knew were technical and in our space. And yeah. So I invited them all to this, and she just showed me these slides yesterday, and I don't remember most of this, but like it's bringing back all these memories because everybody, I guess, this was different from anything that we had ever seen. And she was saying that like women are siloed for whatever reason, if you make it in a male-dominated field, the women are more competitive for some reason and we'd like to kill that. Which is part of why we do what we do and we talk to so many women, because if we can show enough women, the women stories, it changes the game, I think. And it is changing the game. But let's keep our slides. Okay. Go.

Nikki Gonzales: Yeah. So this really came out as our intent. Women content in automation is lacking, we thought, and this is Courtney Fernandez, who is actually now part of our team. She is at another event right now, but, and Ali says we need to either make videos or help each other make content. And if you don't wanna talk direct to the camera, then offer support in other ways. We just wanna put out content; we wanna change the game. This is way before we thought of the podcast. But Ali was out there doing it, and she wanted to encourage other women to do it in whatever form or fashion they feel comfortable with. It's not everybody want... Likes public speaking. Not everybody likes putting their face on a video. I hate hearing my voice. I've gotten over that. But it took me about two decades.

Alicia Gilpin: I saw a bunch of men that had like PLCs behind them or like switches, and I'm like, I have all that crap in my living room. So I'm gonna put some up. And yeah. So why can't more faces of... Or our faces do that. It's not... I mean, it helps. And actually, people think that I am a giant Siemens programmer. I actually like mostly know Allen-Bradley. But you wouldn't know that from the way that, like Siemens ended up sponsoring us.

Nikki Gonzales: So I fangirled real hard, and I was like, "Oh, I work for a parts procurement platform." I was like, "Ali, if you need anything for your turbo and tabulator thing or whatever you call it, let me send you something." And I sent her, like, some Festo connectors and cable or something.

Alicia Gilpin: Shielded, twisted... Yeah. Shielded, twisted pair for analog.

Nikki Gonzales: And I didn't even order it from Coby, and we didn't have it. I was like, I don't care.

Alicia Gilpin: It was golden.

Nikki Gonzales: This is from Coby. So this group chat really grew. And then a bunch of women were like, yeah, I don't know about this, but the chat is not active at the moment, but it really... It got things kickstarted. So somebody brought up the idea: "Hey, maybe we should have a meet and greet." And then Courtney actually put it into action. She started a, what I used to call the Saturday Zoom call. It turns out it was a teams call. I like to selectively like get Microsoft out of my brain.

Nikki Gonzales: But we had this recurring call on Saturdays in the afternoon, and it was like, "Hey, bring your kids, your dogs, whatever, and your robots, let's just chat." And Courtney had a UR5 in her garage at the time, I think, and showed us some demos, and Ali and I never made it onto the same Saturday call. So still, we had not met ever or talked other than over this LinkedIn chat. I wanted to mention and just give Courtney a shout out because she... Honestly, I don't know why she wasn't initially part of the show, but she really is a huge catalyst to it. And she co-hosts with us a lot now; she's also our in-house robot expert. And she's a Senior Automation Engineer for the United Robotics Group as well as a co-founder of her own company. They do IT and automation consulting, called FAST One Solutions.

Alicia Gilpin: She has a master's in robotics.

Nikki Gonzales: Yeah, she's a very smart woman. But we also... We really identify with other kind of like entrepreneurial automation women. 'Cause it takes another certain type of breed to go out and, like, start your own business...

Alicia Gilpin: Crazy.

Nikki Gonzales: And do something new. Yeah. So big shout out to Courtney. And then, after we had some of these meetings and whatnot, I was like this is so cool. This is something I didn't know that I was missing. 'Cause I always thought, "Oh, I'm fine being one of two women in a room of 300." Like, I've always had mostly guy friends. If you go to engineering school or, like, take AP physics, it's not like you're gonna have a room full of women.

Nikki Gonzales: And I was shoved into women in engineering conferences and just found myself going, "Ugh, I don't know what to do with myself." But here we just found like-minded women that we actually had a bunch in common with, and I thought, "I bet there's a bunch of us." Just one over here, one over there, one over there, and maybe they don't know that the rest of us exist, and we should put that out there. So we thought, "Hey, a podcast or something that is open to everybody to listen, you don't have to join, you don't have to qualify, you don't have to be cool enough; whatever it is, you can just participate in any way that you want." And I pitched Ali.

Nikki Gonzales: So I had been listening to this podcast called Office Ladies. If you are a fan of the Office, it's Angela and Pam, and they talk about the office and they're actually best friends, and I really enjoy it. And one day I was listening and I was like, "How cool would it be if I had a friend that I could just talk..." Yes. Comma.

Nikki Gonzales: I swear, I kind of have other friends too. But you know, this was literally my pitch to her: "Fan of The Office by chance? Wanna do an Automation Ladies podcast with me?" And then my bait and switch, which was my promise of I'll do all the hard work producing it, and you can just show up and chat with me. So Ali said, "Yeah, totally awesome; let's do it." Little did we know that this, is actually not easy and I would not have any time for it and all of that. But it really... We decided to do this, and we started posting about it as we were doing it. So by the time that... This was maybe... Two or three months later, Automate came around. They hadn't done the show in a couple of years, and we saw a lot of excitement around it. And they were seeing our posting that we had a podcast. I'm pretty sure they had no women doing anything at the show.

Nikki Gonzales: So they were like, "Hey, would you like to come speak or do some podcasting or something at the show?" And that is literally where we met in person for the first time. It was at Automate two years ago, and... Or no, it was Automate last year, so it was really a year and a half ago or so. And thankfully, we actually liked each other. Like, you know, you get catfished online or something. We met and we were like, "Oh yeah, you actually are cool. Thank you. I'm glad I didn't just commit to this like long business relationship with you where we have to like be on camera together and be friends." We actually are friends, which is pretty cool. I don't know if you have anything to say about this slide, Ali. Other than, when I read that promise to her that I would do all the hard work, she just laughed for five minutes. Really hard because it didn't turn out quite perfect.

Alicia Gilpin: It got complicated.

Nikki Gonzales: So our next slide. Oh, we're gonna play you this. Please, do I have to press... Oh, do I have to press something to play it? Yeah. Okay. Thank you. And I'm just... Yeah, I don't like the sound of my own voice. So excuse us.

Nikki Gonzales: Welcome to Automation Ladies! The only show that we know of where girls talk about industrial automation. We are your hosts. I'm Nikki Gonzalez with Quotebeam.

Alicia Gilpin: And my name is Ali G. with myself.

Nikki Gonzales: What's the name of your, company Ali?

Alicia Gilpin: Process & Controls Engineering, LLC. But I just go by PCE LLC for short.

Nikki Gonzales: So... Yeah, making a podcast isn't quite as easy as we thought. We took a lot of takes of a lot of things, including our intros. We actually got some sponsors, and we had to figure out how to say stuff like that. Read ads. I don't know. It was uncomfortable. I really didn't like listening to myself and being the producer. I was supposed to listen and edit and stuff like that. And it was incredibly excruciating and hard, and nothing ever made it past my post-production stage because... I was talking to Alex about this earlier, but like your own work will never be good enough if you're the one judging it, right? I don't know about you guys, but that's how I feel about anything I put out. So we grossly underestimated how hard it is to run and produce a podcast, especially when you run a company and have a full-time startup job, which is just a little bit more work than like normal jobs. But we kept trying because we made a promise to each other. We really wanted to do this.

Nikki Gonzales: And initially, we also told each other... And I don't remember if it was something you said first, but this is not about... Automation Ladies isn't about us. We wanna get out there and try it so we can show somebody else that they can do it, and hopefully they do it better than us, and then take over and we can crawl into a hole and go away.

Nikki Gonzales: It was really not something that we wanted to do to make ourselves famous. And as much as... A lot of a takeaway of this is kind of like, at the end, we'll talk about what you can do. And we do see a huge value in getting a personal brand and putting your content out there. We didn't start this to do that with that kind of commercial mindset. It just happens to be a perk if you do this type of thing. But yeah, we struggled with audio quality, as you could hear earlier and streaming. How to set up recording.

Nikki Gonzales: I tried recording in a space in my house that turned out to be completely terrible 'cause there was so much echo in there. So our first five episodes we recorded, and then I listened to them, and I was like, "Oh, this is all garbage. We can't use this at all." But what we did during that time is we kept posting about what we were doing. Ali, I'm like, "Oh look, I created a placeholder page," And she sent it out to her, whatever, 50,000 followers. And we're like, "Here's the thing." And I'm like, "Oh, shoot. Now, there's a thing. I really gotta follow through with this." So really, we pushed each other. We wouldn't have been able to do it. If it was just me alone, this would've never happened. We struggled with tools, recording software. We used a production, an editing service, but then it turned out we actually needed a producer. I'm apparently not a producer, and it didn't have time to learn to be one.

Alicia Gilpin: Yeah, consultants are not producers.

Nikki Gonzales: We tried really hard on our own, and then as we just kept talking about it and trying to get... We didn't really ask for help. But Ali actually met somebody that she wanted to get on the show who knew somebody that wanted to be a producer, but she was working as a barista. And we were like, "Oh, that's perfect."

Alicia Gilpin: She studied sound engineering.

Nikki Gonzales: We don't know what we're doing.

Alicia Gilpin: She wanted to work on podcasts.

Nikki Gonzales: So let's get somebody on that doesn't really know either but knows more than us. And so we lucked into the amazing gem of our producer, who is an audio engineer as well as an office manager. Of course, she does it in her spare time, Laura Marsilio. And then at Automate, Sam Janes from Gray Solutions, who's an engineer that we met, was like, "Hey, you guys need music. I'll make music for this." So it kind of became like a community effort a little bit as people believed in us and said, "Hey, we really like what you're doing. Where's your podcast?" And we're like, "Oh, we're still working on it." They're like, "What... Do you need help?" So it was amazing in terms of just that kind of community support as we talked about what we were doing. And I tried really hard to talk about the fact that we're trying to do this and we're not doing very well, but we're gonna keep trying. And I think a lot of people can relate to that because we oftentimes try things by ourselves in isolation, and it can be hard to keep it going if you feel like you're not getting anywhere.

Nikki Gonzales: So we didn't give up. And after months and months of trying, we finally published our first episode. And then, now we are up to 37 episodes. We've had two seasons. And we've done a number of LinkedIn live events as well, like panel discussions. Cybersecurity Awareness Month is coming up again in October. We did our first panel last year during Cybersecurity Awareness Month, which was sponsored by Phoenix Contact, which was amazing. Really helped us pay Laura and things like that.

Alicia Gilpin: Do you have the stat on how many countries have made downloads from us?

Nikki Gonzales: Oh no, I don't remember, but it was a lot. It was like 50-something countries have downloaded Automation Ladies episodes. It's crazy to us. These are just stats for Automation Ladies. LinkedIn is a little hard to pull this type of information from, and they don't go back more than 365 days, from what I could tell. But again, I'm not an expert at this. So I pulled the stats for just Automation Ladies for the last year. We are almost up to 10,000 followers. I think we're like 200 shy as of today. So if all of you guys wanna go follow us, that would be amazing.

Nikki Gonzales: We've had about 14,000 page views of just the Automation Ladies stuff. About half a million post impressions and about 5,000 downloads of our podcast itself. It averages about 500 a month or so when we're actually producing episodes. So we have season three starting next week. So if you tune in on iTunes, or Spotify, or wherever you listen, we'll be dropping our first episode of season three next week on Thursday. And we tried to do an episode every Thursday or so, for a season. And then turned out we needed a break this year, which is why we're starting up now in October.

Nikki Gonzales: But the point is, you can't... You have to start somewhere. And what you have to do is just try and be consistent. And eventually, if, You know... There are people out there that will wanna hear what you have to say. Some people have told us, "Oh, we do better if we do audience research or we choose topics that people wanna talk about." Things like that. But then we wouldn't be getting it done because, for us, this is very much kind of a labor of love, that we have a hard time fitting into our schedules, but we make time for it. We're not marketing professionals. We don't get paid for this. So for us, it's really, we wanna have the conversations we wanna have. And if it's your cup of tea, great. You can listen to us, you can be part of this any way you want.

Nikki Gonzales: Come on the show, come in the comment sections of our lives, participate. We love that. It really keeps us going because, again, this is not supposed to be about us. But I liked this little. I found this picture the other day. Your first workout will be bad. Your first podcast will be bad. Your first anything will be bad, but you can't make your 100th without making your first. So put aside your ego and start. For me, one of those things was getting over the fear of my own voice sounding terrible. I feel like I sound like a 12-year-old, and I've never enjoyed listening to myself. So podcasts was the furthest thing from anything that I would ever imagine doing, 'cause it is literally only my voice. But you evolve, and you realize that it doesn't really matter. Just do the thing if you want to.

Alicia Gilpin: We like to be uncomfortable on purpose.

Alicia Gilpin: For growth, right?

Nikki Gonzales: Well, I think, also as being in this profession, we're pretty used to being thrown at things we don't know what to do or challenges we quite don't know how to solve. But we have tools. And we try to learn from every experience. And I personally find myself the happiest at the bottom of a steep learning curve because once I've really learned something and I'm just doing repetitive work, it gets boring to me, and I wanna learn something else. So we'll see how long we go with this before I think of another crazy thing that we need to do, but we're keeping ourselves busy. We like variety. So we're doing demos; we've done software demos so far, 'cause that kind of makes sense for the online format. But we're doing our first hardware demo next month, so that's kind of exciting.

Nikki Gonzales: And we're very much open to any kind of ideas and collaborations that we can have with the community. Whether or not we've done them before, we don't really care. That's kind of the fun part about this. It's a little bit unpredictable. How has this actually helped us? Has this been worth it? For me, it's a resounding yes. And I think that Ali would probably agree.

Alicia Gilpin: I do.

Nikki Gonzales: Yeah. So we thought about what benefits has this brought us, going through this, putting it out there, putting ourselves out there. There's definitely some negatives to it. You get criticized. Some people, send us creepy messages on LinkedIn and stuff like that.

Nikki Gonzales: But overwhelmingly, it's been an incredibly positive experience. So having this type of network or people, knowing who you are a little bit, or being able to reach out. It's so much easier for me to reach out to someone and say, "Hey, I'm with Automation Ladies; I see that you're a cool lady automation engineer; would you like to come on my show?" than to not have a good reason to reach out to people. It's not a sales pitch of any kind. It's a good... It's a way that makes me feel good about reaching out to people. And it's really result in... For our businesses, doors open more easily to customers and partners when they kind of know who you are. Vendor relationships, recruiting, and hiring. Ali's most recent hire, Carlos, listened to me on another podcast and heard about Automation Ladies and PCE through that and was like, Hey, I'm in Seattle. I wanna work for Ali. So that's been pretty cool. We get invited to places like this, conferences, both to speak and then sometimes just to learn. And we are still learning a whole lot. We've made a lot of new friends.

Alicia Gilpin: Every kind of friend.

Nikki Gonzales: Every kind of friend.

Alicia Gilpin: OEM friends, hardware manufacturers, other integrators, I mean, people that work in IoT, cybersecurity.

Nikki Gonzales: Yeah.


Alicia Gilpin: And yeah, we've had panels about... We've had panels about cybersecurity.

Nikki Gonzales: So all kinds of stuff. Yeah, huge support network as well. As Ali is a smaller systems integrator. So to be able to take on projects where she knows that she knows other systems integrators, or contractors, or people that have expertise in areas that she doesn't, our network has grown in a huge way through this. And she can now bid on projects that she never would've been able to by herself because of the network of subcontractors that she can call on for different areas of the country or different expertise.

Alicia Gilpin: Yeah, even just the technical network.

Nikki Gonzales: Yeah.

Alicia Gilpin: Because of the type of followers that I have and how community-based it is. If someone comes to me, and they do, they'll send me a video of something messed up. It's some kind of hardware, or some kind of legacy, or maybe even new software that they've done. At one point I did get an Ignition call and got someone who's in this room and yeah, to help me, but basically...

Nikki Gonzales: Right there.

Alicia Gilpin: People from different countries are sending me, "Oh, I know how to do that." Or, "Do you need this or do you need that?" And so it's just amazing to have that technical resources. You just post that and say, "Does anyone know anything about x?" And so many people can see that. And so people wanna... People do wanna show off their... What they can do. And for a free shoutout, you build this entire place you can go and they're gonna produce. And it's always multiple answers or multiple people being like, "Hey, did you get a... Did you get an answer to that? OSI Pi question you had?" Or whatever. So that is incredibly powerful, especially with building connections with technicians, engineers, engineering managers, people that are out there. If you're able to do this, that's huge.

Nikki Gonzales: Yeah. So it's helped our businesses, PCE, and Quotebeam. And then Ali just recently started a new nonprofit called Kids PLC Kits, because we were inspired by one of the guests on our show. We... For season one, we interviewed a little girl. She has a YouTube channel called Little Miss Fix It. And her dad is a HVAC engineer, building automation systems.

Alicia Gilpin: HVAC and a master plumber.

Nikki Gonzales: And a master plumber. And so.

Alicia Gilpin: But he dabbles in BAS, so he knows, PLC-ish.

Nikki Gonzales: Yeah.

Alicia Gilpin: Right?

Nikki Gonzales: And he has two kids. He has an older boy and a younger girl. And his older boy is not interested in any of what he does, but his girl is. And he decided to help nurture that. And he helped her start a YouTube channel, and she changes a toilet, and a dishwasher and a light fixture in their house, and all this cool stuff that you normally wouldn't see an 8-year-old or a 9-year-old girl do. And we thought it was really cool. So we said, "Hey, you wanna come talk to us on the show?" And then, at some point, she asked Ali, "What's a PLC?" And Ali sent her a PLC, and a solenoid, and a bunch of other stuff.

Alicia Gilpin: And an HMI.

Nikki Gonzales: And an HMI.

Alicia Gilpin: It was a starter pack, a Micro 850 starter pack, so you can use connected components workbench for free. And her dad just took it to a level that... Like basically created that nonprofit or made me create that nonprofit. Because the video that she produced... Well, that they produced together, obviously, is just like a 10-year-old girl in her room. She's got... She, they built, on wood, they mounted DIN rail. She cut like Panduit. She... And the video shows all of this, and she's wiring the PLC. She actually had... I sent her PLCs twice: the first PLC... The first time I sent her a PLC, I wanted to show her a Siemens logo and a Micro 800, the dumb one. And I put those... I sent her both of those. And then I sent her that starter pack.

Alicia Gilpin: But in this video, first she uses the logo, and she's doing stuff with her phone. So she's clicking relays on and off with her phone. And she shows wiring, programming. She shows opening connected components, we're dragging objects and connecting. So she's showing the programming, and she's 10. And you're like, I don't know that many engineers can wire that necessarily, like holy crap. And so I saw that, and I was just so incredibly moved that I had to figure out a way to reproduce that. Obviously, not all the girls are gonna have this amazing dad. But that doesn't mean that we can't figure out, like, how do you put real industrial hardware in front of children? Not children, but 10 and all the way to 17 years old, and why shouldn't we show them the real stuff?

Alicia Gilpin: And the reason that I felt so passionate about this is because I remember coming up in the industry and knowing nothing. Even I knew what a PLC was, but not... I couldn't recognize one in a cabinet. And I studied chemical engineering, and I knew Laplace transforms and whatnot and know nothing about the inside of a cabinet. And so when I did finally start learning that stuff, I felt empowered when I would re-see in a new plant things I've seen before, that kind of valve, or that kind of power supplier, whatever. And so I'm like, if we can show them the real stuff before they get out there, they're gonna be amazing when they're out there. 'Cause they're gonna be like, "I know what that is, or I've seen that." What? That's a PLC. They're like, "Oh, I know how that HMI kinda talks to this. I bet there's a switch in there."

Alicia Gilpin: And so our base kit is just mostly like, digital inputs and outputs. So the smaller PLCs that already have the built-in I/O, we take, basically, hardware from everybody. We take people; it originally was just like, I know you guys have some spare hardware; send it to me. And that's how I originally asked for the stuff. And I... That was eight months ago or something. And then I started... It started getting more serious and then brand new OEMs because of the way that I had already had these relationships with manufacturers, Phoenix Contact, PATLITE, Siemens. 'Cause I've always been at, like, I wanna know all the different brands. And that was just part of me always purch... I was huge in buying the components 'cause I would spec everything, including instrumentation or everything inside of the control panel.

Alicia Gilpin: So I knew all these vendors, and so I started communicating with all of them. And so they knew what I'm doing, and I have this following, so they're now sending me free brand new stuff. Siemens just sent like 24 of everything. S7-1200 PLCs, HMIs, stack lights, buttons, basically their own kit switches, power supplies, and 24 of every single one of those. So everyone else has now gotta step up their game, but before that... PATLITE would send stuff. And so many, really just like people that rip stuff out and they're like, "Do you want... I rip out banner sensors and or whatever?" 'Cause they re-do machinery. And so all these people are just sending this stuff. And so now I have all this stuff in my apartment, or my headquarters.

Alicia Gilpin: And, but I have interns coming, and I already had a really successful... Basically, we built kits, 10 kits Court... My intern Courtney built 10 kits, programmed them all, and then showed them too kids in a workshop in Clover Tech... Or Clover Park Technical College. And it was like, 13-14-15-year-old kids, that were kind of looking at. And she had the presentation, and she showed them the code and everything and kind of explained everything that they were looking at, and they all had a kid in front of them. And we got... That was our first; like, we rented that, and then we'll use that money to like ship. But we're figuring out everything. We... Well, we finally got our website live.

Alicia Gilpin: But what we want is to get as many... The motto is "if the kid's free, the kit's free." Meaning we're trying to give these kits to public schools. And if you wanna get them in outside of public schools, we're gonna sell those. But the stuff that we get donated, like that, was donated to be given to kids. So that's where it's gonna go. If we can't use it, then yeah, we'll figure out how to use that money. We'll sell it or get rid of it and use that money to keep doing what we're doing. But we work with the teachers. We don't send kids PLCs, and we also don't do any high-voltage stuff, like no motor controls. Everything has to be 24 volt DC. And yeah, but there's a lot of... A lot of what? I don't remember.

Nikki Gonzales: Well, what inspired this nonprofit is what we learned through the show.

Alicia Gilpin: Yeah.

Nikki Gonzales: So we interviewed a lot of girls, or women, or people in the industry, and we... First question we ask them is, "How did you get into automation? Tell us your story." And most people got into it by some weird happenstance.

Alicia Gilpin: Accident.

Nikki Gonzales: Or they happen to know someone. Nobody was like, "Oh, I grew up. I wanted to be an automation engineer." Because people don't know what we do. And we've also been told by men, like, "Oh, just women aren't interested in this stuff."

Nikki Gonzales: And we're like, I... Probably less women in general. If every woman on the earth was exposed to industrial automation, yeah, probably still less women would wanna do it, but way more than do it right now because we just don't know. And Elena proved to us that you can put this in front of a girl, and some of them are really interested.

Nikki Gonzales: We also spoke to a lot of people that do education, and Amanda Beaton with Siemens, and we spoke to someone from ABB, but they're all focusing on the college level and up, maybe high school. And at some point, sometimes that's too late even. So we really... Through everything that we learned...

Alicia Gilpin: They've already decided they're gonna work at Facebook at that point.

Nikki Gonzales: From the show was that, "Hey, you know what? This is a need, and maybe we can fill it." And the network we've built from the show has helped us build this. So if you're interested in participating in KPK, there will be a address that you can look up after this or contact Ali. But that's really... It's given us a lot of opportunities to do what we love, both in our actual day jobs, which is thankfully why we can do both. But it... Yeah, it has really helped us and the companies that we work for and/or of the organizations that we're trying to support.

Nikki Gonzales: So what can you do? Telling people, "Hey, go start a podcast." You may not wanna do that. It's really hard, and you have to stick with it for forever. And maybe, audio format isn't your thing. But what we really have seen is the power of doing something you love in front of people, letting people see it, letting people know what you're learning, what you're interested in. People will want to help you.

Alicia Gilpin: Helping teach. Helping teach is huge.

Nikki Gonzales: Yeah. There's a bunch of other stuff that you can do yourself or as an organization to get this type of network community built. And I know, Ignition is all about community. This is a community conference, right? So you all already know the power of community. We don't run an official community at Automation Ladies, but we kind of call it a community because we really do... If you come on the show or you are part... You interact with us in any way. We're around to help you, and our network is around to help you. And we do feel like that is kind of a community. But there's a lot of other things that you can do. So if you're not already, your company or yourself, doing something, I wanted to put together some actionable takeaways other than just like, look at our blind luck, and we did this. I hate seeing like how-tos, they're like, "Oh, look, it's so easy. I did it." And I'm like, well, if I did it, I wouldn't have those results.

Nikki Gonzales: But there's a bunch of stuff that you can do. So do you already have someone at your company that likes producing any kind of content or is willing to share their expertise? Let them, and maybe don't have it be from your corporate page. People kinda like to learn from other people. It seems people care about people. We all know that, especially the sales side of this, it's a people business. You wanna work with people that you know you can trust. You wanna work with organizations that you know are competent. You wanna know with... Work with people that you know that they are resourceful. So that really helps with business development. Sometimes just don't, obviously use it specifically for that, but it can help. What we've seen is, and our production value is not high. But people tell us all the time, they like that. It seems authentic, it's not overly produced.

Nikki Gonzales: So don't worry that it has to be 100% perfect and corporate. It doesn't. Somebody will like what you're doing if you put your expertise. So share your expertise and be a resource. I know you hear this a lot, like share value. In your marketing, but engineers especially, they want to know how to do stuff. They want to have have technical content. They don't always like to raise their hand and ask, but they wanna find information. So be that resource in whatever way you can. Blog posts, videos, just pick something and do it consistently, and don't pay attention to who's watching because you will psych yourself out in month three because nobody cares about what you're doing.

Nikki Gonzales: But it doesn't matter because eventually, as long as you do it long enough and consistently enough and you're true to yourself, some people are gonna gravitate towards that. Your audience will find you as long as you keep doing what you're doing because that also shows that you care about it. You're being authentic. You're not just doing it for the likes, or the followers, or the sales. What I wanna say is, if you think that you're gonna get a bunch of sales in month three and your marketing team is tracking the ROI of what you're doing, don't bother, because you're very unlikely to have instant success.

Nikki Gonzales: This is a long-game-type situation. If you think about how you build your business relationships, if you're not thinking about the long term, in my opinion, you're not doing it right. And the same goes for any of this kind of content stuff, personal branding, think about the long term. What are you building for yourself? What do you want 5-10 years from now? Do you wanna have a bunch of friends, or do you wanna have a bunch of shiny TV appearances? I don't know. But whatever those goals are, I think if you're authentic about it yourself, you have a good reason to do what you're doing, people will gravitate towards that. I think... I don't know if you had any other things you wanted to add on this particular point, but I know you were like.

Alicia Gilpin: Just answer questions.

Nikki Gonzales: Just get out there and put something out there. Add value to people.

Alicia Gilpin: Yeah. Yeah, I just wanted to say, the more... I learned that like if you want people's email, you want people talking to you have to give them something, which is a white paper. Some information, maybe something you learned, it really makes a huge difference. Otherwise there... Yeah, there's... There won't be engagement, not natural engagement.

Nikki Gonzales: So, yeah, I think, we are ready for some questions, and if you wanna reach out to us, we are in a bunch of different places, but mostly we're easy to find on LinkedIn. And we would love it if you subscribe to our podcast. We're really bad about saying that whole thing, but subscribe and like, and my 5-year-old knows it better than me. She...

Alicia Gilpin: She has a question over here.

Christine Lee: Hi, I'm back. I will be moderating now. But thank you for your talk. I love that you gave Sam Janes a shout-out. I was also an integrator with Gray Solutions before this gig, so yay. Okay.

Audience Member 1: So a lot of people here obviously aren't necessarily going to be big on social and things like that. So what are some ways that they can empower women and make sure that they're in leadership roles or in positions where they can take charge that maybe aren't so public but also aren't putting them on the spot at their own company either?

Alicia Gilpin: I mean, we highly support girl dads and like are so happy for so many of the man allies, people that have sisters, brothers. I think, talking to them and thanking them when you do see that publicly, I think makes them kind of wanna do it more. Or yeah, I don't know. I think that makes a difference. And then going to high schools if you can. I know that no one... Not everyone wants to do that. Or support groups Mavens of Manufacturing, who's going around to schools actively talking about that stuff. And then yeah, for, in terms of putting women in roles, I mean you just gotta... In terms of getting people into a company, you have to have women already there to kind of attract more of them. And so you just start hiring, and then, I don't know, post about it. Show these women and show the people in your companies; don't just show corporate things like show who's working there and then the people that... That's how you're presenting yourself to the world is through those people.

Nikki Gonzales: I would also say not all women, but a lot of us, we don't... Maybe we don't speak up as much in meetings, or we're a little bit more of a perfectionist. We're afraid of not being good enough when we say something.

Alicia Gilpin: Or being wrong.

Nikki Gonzales: So I would say if you are in a meeting situation and there's a woman there that you know has something to add, or maybe she tried and didn't get heard, try to be that ally that says, "Hey, oh, did you have something you wanted to say about that?" Try to get their voices out there more. Sometimes we need a little push or a little support, but I agree with you. Don't just like shove somebody on the stage and say like, "You go present now," or you be... Don't do the token woman thing. "Oh, we've got one. Look at her speak."

Nikki Gonzales: Right? But do try to... Do try to encourage them, and then make sure that you're showcasing. Like, if you have women at all in your company, show them. Because see... Seeing them on your recruiting page and all those things that will encourage more women to apply. Think about the language. If you're a big company that's been around for a while, you may have a lot of stuff that turns off women in a lot of your procedures and the way things are written and stuff. You... It may be time to like just look at that stuff and be like, "Hey, is this job description that says, he will do this?" Maybe turning off some great women candidates or maybe making some women feel like they're not material to be promoted to this role. Because it seems to be made for a man. There's little things; there's no silver bullet to that, but really, just try to encourage them, and being a quiet encourager can be great too. Send a private message and say, "Hey, if I can just ever help you, let me know."

Alicia Gilpin: That's cool. Very Cool.

Nikki Gonzales: Yeah, you don't have to do it in public.

Christine Lee: Okay, one more question.

Audience Member 2: Can you give us the website for the kids kits?

Christine Lee: Oh yeah.

Audience Member 2: I think it's really important for you to put it out and share that.

Alicia Gilpin:

Audience Member 2: There you go.

Alicia Gilpin: And it is a 501 [c] [3].

Audience Member 2: And there's donations on there too, so if anybody wants to participate in donating, there's donations on there. That's really important.

Alicia Gilpin: Yes. And we take volunteers to help the teachers when they have problems. If you know a specific platform, we'll call on you.

Nikki Gonzales: Or help develop...

Alicia Gilpin: Like, "Hey, this teacher's got problems right now. Can you help them?"

Nikki Gonzales: Or help develop curriculum if you're an expert in a certain type of PLC?

Alicia Gilpin: Yeah, we provide the curriculum.

Nikki Gonzales: We need to transfer the curriculum for all the different types of hardware that's out there.

Alicia Gilpin: We're trying to make them build Whack-a-Mole with PLCs and HMI. Yeah. Thank you.

Nikki Gonzales: Well, thank you for coming...

Christine Lee: My job.

Nikki Gonzales: And yeah, don't do Christine's job. I'm very sorry.

Christine Lee: No, it's okay. No, this has been wonderful. Thank you so much for coming to the session, and also thank you to the Automation Ladies for coming here to ICC.

Nikki Gonzales: Thank you, guys.

Alicia Gilpin: Bye. Thank you.

Posted on December 22, 2023